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Neighbors piled into SUV to escape flooding in Hudson

HUDSON — As the outer bands of Hurricane Hermine lashed coastal Pasco County, Jennifer Webb woke up to rising water in her Hudson Beach home.

It was 1 a.m., the start of a harrowing ordeal that she and her three young children barely escaped.

"It was already ankle deep," said Webb, 36, smoking a cigarette outside the Mike Fasano Regional Hurricane Shelter in Hudson.

LIVE BLOG: The latest on Hurricane Hermine's impact on Tampa Bay area

Webb, who lives near a canal on Conner Street, said that when she opened the front door of her home, things got worse.

"The water rushed in," said Webb as her son Nicholas, 3, tugged at her shirt. "It was now knee deep."

Webb was among 33 people from areas including Green Key and Hudson Beach who sought refuge at locations including the shelter during the storm surge from Hermine. In addition, five people were rescued in Hernando County, including a pregnant woman and her 5-year-old child.

As rain continued to fall, Webb and her neighbors hopped into Webb's Ford Explorer. "There were 12 people who got in," she said. "Four adults and eight children from three families."

The loaded SUV pulled away with no time to spare.

"Another inch of water and we couldn't have gotten the Explorer out."

Everyone made it to the shelter safely.

Hours later, her Chevy Impala was still parked in the flooded driveway. Though the water had receded, it left its mark on the house and front porch.

Around noon, Conner Drive still looked like a small river.

Still, not everyone on the street left.

"My trailer is pretty high, so I stayed," said Buzz Deschaine, a burly man with a bushy beard who makes chicken coops for a living. "The water took away a couple of my pallets."

For Deschaine, who was walking through the water carrying a portable drill, the storm was mainly an inconvenience.

"I have some cleaning up to do."

Ellen Feiler, 54, of 14709 Kingfisher Lane in Hudson Beach, was asleep when she heard someone pounding on her door at 2 a.m.

"It was my neighbors," she said. "They saved my life."

As the house took on water, Feiler, who lives with her 82-year-old mother, Lenora, made their way to the shelter. Now she has to deal with the aftermath

"I have to talk to FEMA and my insurance company," she said, adding that she does not know when she can go back home. "My head is swimming."

The storm was so bad that Rachel Gernaat, 21, couldn't make it to Signal Cove where she lives with her mother, two Great Danes and two cats

"The roads were flooded out," Gernaat said.

Her mother, Ginger Gernaat, 46, stayed behind with the animals — two Great Danes, Storm and Jäger, and two cats, Daisy and Cookie

"It was crazy," Rachel Gernaat said. "The water pushed our bass boat into our yard."

In Hernando County, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission helped the pregnant woman and her 5-year-old as water rose around their home at Wimberley Court in Weeki Wachee, according to a statement from Hernando County Emergency Management.

FWC used boats to rescue two people from a home on Minnow Creek Drive in Hernando Beach and a woman from Ray Drive in Weeki Wachee. All of those rescued went to homes of family or friends.

The flooding in Hudson Beach gave business owners headaches, too.

Sara De La Osa, 45, whose family has owned Sam's Beach Bar for 35 years, was nervously watching the storm Thursday night from her Lutz home.

"I was praying to Mother Nature that she she not be too hard on us."

De La Osa arrived at the bar around 10 p.m. to assess damage.

"We were very lucky," she said. "It could have been worse."

As rain whipped the iconic beach front establishment Friday morning, she waited for contractors to show up so she could determine when to reopen.

At the nearby Port Hudson Marina, Michelle Bittaker was mopping the floor of Get Hooked, a waterfront restaurant and bar. Her main concern was the power outage, and the clock was ticking on the food and beer inside her walk-in fridge and freezer.

Bittaker won't open the restaurant Friday night, normally a busy time at Get Hooked — especially on the Labor Day holiday weekend, she said. But she plans to be back up and running soon.

"It just needs to be cleaned," she said, "because the Gulf of Mexico came into our restaurant."

Staff writer Josh Solomon contributed to this report.